Beauty From The Ashes

Wednesday marked the first day of Lent with Ash Wednesday services happening around the world in the Christian community.

Growing up, my childhood church and family didn’t readily practice giving up something of value for Lent, and even into my adulthood, I haven’t consistently given up anything. However, of the years I have participated, God has met with me in this annual season of waiting and choosing deliberately to focus on forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love.

It is no secret that I love to bake and eat delicious sweet treats, so this year I am giving up added sugar. Avoiding certain cupboards known to contain chocolate and cookies, I am tangibly learning to exercise self-control, redirecting that energy into prayer and praise for God’s gift of salvation. Reflecting on Jesus’ forty days of fasting in the desert, my small sacrifice of sugar until Easter helps me to better appreciate and relate to my Savior’s journey to the cross.

I attended the Ash Wednesday service at my children’s school, joining in as we thought about the many ways in which we all make mistakes with our words, thoughts, and actions. As each child, teacher, and parent received the smeared, black ash sign of the cross on foreheads, I was reminded how much my salvation is undeserved. I mess up daily, and yet, there is a gracious, merciful, unconditional love that God chose and still chooses to extend to me and all those who believe in Jesus. And Jesus himself, though worthy of all praise, honor, and adoration was mocked, beaten, and sacrificed for us.

Ashes are the dirty, unwanted remnants after a fire has died out. The symbolic gray-black powder is a reminder that just like ashes smeared on our faces, the filthy substance reflects the condition of all human hearts. Thankfully, our story doesn’t have to permanently stay in ashes, but instead, was provided with the ultimate rescue plan. Isaiah 61:3 shares a message of hope to God’s people that he has been sent to, “bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” Only God in his great, compassionate love could bring forth anything good out of such a filthy mess of our lives.

Wherever we find ourselves on our spiritual journey, I pray that God would help us to better grasp the depth of his salvation plan—to acknowledge the weight of our sin placed on the pure and holy Son of God. May those of us, if we are temporarily giving something up for Lent, have a deeper gratitude and appreciation for Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice.

May we all truly believe and live to testify that God brings forth beauty in our lives from the ashes.

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